What an interesting place! Jerusalem is a city with an incredibly rich history, the place of both great and tragic stories, a city that has endured several wars and is the setting for the holy books of the Quran, Torah and Bible. It is a melting pot of religion and culture and the three major Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all consider Jerusalem as their holy land. I am not remotely religious but being in this place that all of these religions have such a strong connection to was quite a special experience.

Today the political status of Jerusalem is one of the core issues in the Israel-Palestine conflict, with both parties considering Jerusalem their capital. Any active conflict was not evident in this city during my visit but it didn’t really feel like a place where open political discussions were to be had. However, it did appear that (at least on the surface) all these religions and people were able to exist together in this small space in relative harmony.

Jerusalem Old City

I explored the old city firstly on the free Sandemans Walking Tour to get my bearings, and then on my own at all times of day. Early in the morning I went running through the city and the cute parks located around the old city. The place is then quiet, the shops are all closed and the streets are mostly empty. Fast forward a few hours and the place is buzzing with tourists, vendors and locals exploring all that the old city has to offer. In the evening it all quietens down again, except for the Western Wall on friday night during Shabbat. This was certainly an amazing experience. Men and women are allowed to access separate areas of the wall, and they pray, cry, dance and sing together. An incredible time for people watching and getting an insight into the traditions of the strictly orthodox Jewish community.

The city is divided into four main ‘quarters’ – the Jewish Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Muslim Quarter and the Armenian Quarter and each quarter has its own vibe and cultural feel. The people that live and work here all have a story to tell about their lives and what the city means to them. I spent over an hour speaking with a lovely Armenian man in his ceramics shop and drank coffee with Issam in his souvenir shop turned book cafe (Bassem’s Gallery Bookshop Cafe) in the Muslim Quarter. These are the kinds of encounters that truly enhanced and enriched my time in this city and are experiences that I think I could only have by wandering around the city alone.

I watched men and women pray over Jesus’s empty tomb in The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jewish community pray, cry, dance and sing at the Western Wall on the evening of Shabbat, climbed up the many stairs to the Mount of Olives just west of the Old City for views over the cemetery and the city and explored the narrow laneways and souqs that line the alleyways and crowd the street crossings. Bartering with the vendors for a unique souvenir is part of the experience. I tried to visit the Dome of The Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but unfortunately they were closed to the public on the day I wanted to go.

To get away from the bustle of the Old City you can escape up the perimeter walls for another viewpoint over this interesting city. Tickets for the “Ramparts Walk” (18 shekels) can be bought from the Tourist Centre at the Jaffa Gate.

Mahane Yehuda Market

Sometimes referred to the “The Shuk” this market is a must see for every visitor to Jerusalem. ย An easy walk from the Old City along the tram track, it is a hive of activity both day and night and is located in the ‘new’ part of the city. During the day market shoppers can meander through the stalls selling everything from flowers, to baked good, to spices, meat and fruit/veg. The colours and smells are alluring and the general vibe is accentuated by the vendors shouting out their product prices. Be prepared to have all kinds of spices thrown into the palm of your hand for tasting. By the end of your visit you will have so many flavour in your mouth that your brain will have a taste sensation overload. In the evening the market transforms into a hip restaurant and bar area where locals and travellers gather for a fun night out.

For an experience not easily forgotten visit the market around 1pm on a Friday. As everything in the city (including public transport) basically closes from 2pm onwards for Shabbat, this place becomes completely chaotic, with people left right and centre running around doing their last minute shop before closing time. It was worse than an Australian supermarket on Christmas Eve! Don’t even try and get served at the deli counter, my friend and I stood there for about 15 minutes trying to get the guy’s attention but we were completely overlooked for the locals that were being far louder and more aggressive than us. All we wanted were some olives! When the clock strikes two the entire place is pretty much deserted other than some forgotten rocket leaves and a couple of squashed tomatoes.

The Holocaust Museum

Located a short walk from the end of the tram line, lies the Holocaust Museum (free entry). It is the best one I have ever been to. Incredibly sad and moving but definitely worth going to. I had to take some time out halfway through because I became so overcome with emotion hearing the stories from the survivors and seeing some of the horrendous photographs. It still amazes and saddens me that humans can treat other humans like this, that they have in the past and are still doing so now. And I don’t really know what to do about it, other than try and be a good human being myself. As you exit the museum you stand looking out over a forested valley, a strategically positioned viewpoint to allow you to reflect on what you have just seen and read about and think about how lucky and blessed we are.

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The Western Wall and gold glowing Dome of the Rock

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One of the oldest sections of wall still remaining in the city

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Hague, the lovely Armenian man who I ended up speaking to for over an hour about all aspects of life. His painted pottery is well known around the country.

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An ancient well inside one of the stores in the Souq

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The famous Falafel Mullah near the Mahade Yehuda market

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Dates – so delicious!

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Honey cakes so sweet even the bees like them
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Mahana Yehuda market just before the start of Shabbat

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We couldn’t get olives, but we could buy vegetables!

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Shabbat at the Western Wall
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre – Jesus’s tomb

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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre
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The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

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View from the Mount of Olives
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View from the Mount of Olives

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Coffee and baklava at Bassem’s Gallery Bookshop Cafe ๐Ÿ™‚

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The Ramparts Walk

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The nitty gritty:

  • How to get there:
    • The bus network here is quite extensive and Jerusalem is accessible from all over Israel and Palestine and also by bus from the Egypt and Jordan borders.
    • The international airport lies near Tel Aviv (Ben Gurion Airport) but this is not far from Jerusalem and transport options include bus, train or taxi.
    • My friends and I hired a car in Eilat and did a road trip through southern Israel and dropped off the car in Jerusalem. (see bottom of page for links about the road trip)
  • Where to stay:
    • You can either stay in the Old City, just outside the city gates or in the new part of the city. There is very little cheap accommodation in Jerusalem, and booking in advance is a good idea.
      • New Swedish Hostel – inside the Old City. Very small but clean and very friendly staff. Small kitchen for cooking food too which was great! You stepped out the door straight into the middle of the Souq which was pretty cool. swedishhost@yahoo.com
      • Palm Hotel – outside the Damascus Gate. Very simple and I felt it was overpriced for what it was. But it was clean and had a small kitchen. Located right above a bustling local market street which was pretty cool.
      • Abraham Hostel – in the new part of town. I didn’t stay here but if it is anything like the one in Tel Aviv, then it is really nice.
  • Getting around:
    • I spent three days in Jerusalem.
    • The Old Town is explored on foot. Be prepared for some stairs and uneven surfaces.
      • The FREE Sandeman’s Walking Tour is great. I have done these tours in plenty of places around the world, and because the guides work for tips they put a lot of effort into making the tours interesting. You can tip whatever amount you like at the end of the tour.
    • The Ramparts Walk is the walk along the top of the city walls. Tickets cost 18 shekels and are bought at the Tourist Centre at the Jaffa Gate. There are two sections you can walk on the same ticket – North and South. Allow about 2 hours to do both sections.
    • You can easily walk to the ‘new’ town and the Mahane Yehuda Market from the Old City.
    • Tram tickets cost 5.90 shekels per trip, and run frequently through the city. The easiest way to get to the Holocaust Museum is by tram. You can also take the tram to the Central Bus Station (where you catch buses to other cities).
    • NOTE: All public transport ceases during Shabbat – every week from Friday afternoon to Saturday evening.
  • Where to eat:
    • There is hardly anywhere to find something cheap to eat in the Old City and surrounding area. Doing a market/supermarket shop and cooking our own meals made for a lot cheaper dinners!
    • The Mahane Yehuda Market has many options for eating out, and there are a tonne of small restaurants and cafes in the streets surrounding this market.
      • ‘Falafel Mullah’ (next to the market) are meant to have some of the best falafel sandwiches in town, and they were pretty damn tasty.
    • Bassem’s Gallery Bookshop Cafe (in the Old City) – a great place to relax with a coffee and the most amazing baklava in a warm and cosy cafe. Issam is really lovely and great to chat to.
  • Other:
    • Safety:
      • I felt very safe wandering around this city both during the day and in the evening on my own.
      • I visited Jerusalem before President Trump made his announcement about Jerusalem being the capital of Israel, not Palestine. There may be a different feel since that statement, but I wasn’t there then and can’t comment.
      • I came across one protest by a large group of Orthodox Jewish men against conscription into the army in Israel. My friend and I were on the tram on the way to the Central Bus Station to go to Tel Aviv. The tram stopped a few stations away and everyone got off. We continued to walk towards the bus station and there was a horrible smell that got stronger and stronger. The we came across the protest. The roads were closed, the trams stopped running and they had been sprayed by sewage water by the police. It was starting to die down by the time we got there and we had no issues getting to the bus station. But it did take a while to get that smell out of our nostrils!

 

Check out my other blog posts on my time in Israel here: